So, I’m sort of into letterpress cards. You may have noticed—I mean, it’s right there in my bio. And, though I’ve had as much fun as anyone trying out the small, personal-sized letterpress machines they sell at the Paper Source, I wanted to see how a genuine, for-real letterpress operation went down.
Thankfully, very near to my new apartment is very near Fifteen/Eleven, a stationery shop that also serves as the retail home for SimpleSong designs, a custom letterpress design company run by Suann Song. (She’s also a fellow University of Washington grad! Go Huskies!) And Suann offers beginners classes to introduce newbies to the art of letterpress. I signed up for a class earlier this month, and it was so fun!
Behind the lovely retail shop was the SimpleSong office, where the real work is done. Suann showed us this great video about how nutty letterpress enthusiasts can be:
The typography! The care taken to hand-stamp each envelope, card, sign! The weird, obscure terminology that has seeped into everyday discourse and somehow lost the connection to original meaning (being “out of sorts”)! It’s not hard, really, to see how letterpress as a medium for design can become something of an obsession to nitpicky visual artist types. (My people.)
What’s fascinating about letterpress is there are no new machines being made. Every letterpress card that’s produced now is done with machines that are antiques—some built as recently as the 1950s, and some from the 19th century. Suann has two letterpress machines: a large Pearl one that was built in the late 1800s, and a smaller one from about five decades ago that she calls “Chip.” The machines are huge, and watching Suann operate one felt like living a Steampunk novel.
We watched the video and talked to Suann about how she designs things for her letterpress, what products they make in-house and what things they find other letterpress houses to do. We discussed the elements of design that are trickiest in letterpress, and how to know when you’re looking at the work of a master.
(Also, to answer your unasked question, Suann said she got that dress at The Gap. She is so stylish!)
Then we got the chance to elbow-grease up and make some cards of our own! Each letter had to be placed in this wooden holding block individually, backwards and reversed. That was a bit of a mind warp. Then you loaded the block into the machine, placed some cardstock, and cranked the letters right in. I made about 20 cards that say “dirrty south” to send out as new address cards. (We moved to a suburb south of D.C., and I will tell you it feels MUCH more like the south! I’m not quite at the sweet tea stage but I’ll keep you posted.)
Anyway, it was a really fun morning, and the girls I met in the class were fantastic. It was awesome to hear how Susan stumbled on something she was passionate about, and how she’s making her business work while raising a family. If you enjoy letterpress specifically, or simple, beautiful design work generally, you should definitely check out SimpleSong, and Suann’s blog.
What have you been up to?? Done anything fun and creative that’s totally separate from writing lately? I recommend it :)